The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter X


Conferring reward, the observance of exact rules of proportion is not nearly of the same importance, as in the infliction of punishment. These rules cannot, however, be neglected with impunity. If too great a reward be held out for a given service, competitors will be attracted from more useful pursuits. If too little, the desired service will either not be rendered, or will not be rendered in perfection.

Rule I. The aggregate value of the natural and factitious reward ought not to be less than sufficient to outweigh the burthen of the service.

Rule II. Factitious rewards may be diminished, in proportion as natural rewards are increased.

These two rules present three subjects to our observation:---1. The natural burthens attached to the service;---2. The natural rewards which either do or do not require factitious reward to supply their deficiency;---3. The drawback, more or less hidden, which in a variety of cases alters the apparent value of the reward.

1. The natural burthens of any particular service, may be comprised under the following heads :---The intensity of labour required in its performance,---the ulterior uneasiness which may arise from its particular character, ---the physical danger attending it,---the expenses or other sacrifices necessary made previously to its exercise,---the discredit attached to it,---the peculiar enmities it produces. The wages of labour in different branches of trade, are regulated in exact proportion to the combination of these several circumstances. To the legislator, however, except in cases where it may be necessary to add factitious to natural reward, considerations of this sort are in general subjects only of speculation.

That any particular service is more or less highly priced, is of little importance: it affects the individuals only who stand in need of it. The competition between those who want and those who can supply, fixes the price of all services in the most fitting manner. It is sufficient that the demand be public and free. To assist, if necessary, in giving publicity to the demand, and in maintaining reciprocal liberty in such transactions, is all that the legislator ought do do.

2. Natural rewards are liable to be insufficient, in relation to services, whose utility extends to the whole community, without producing particular advantage to any one individual more than another. Of this nature are public employments. It is true, many public employments are attended by natural rewards in the shape of honour, power, the means of serving one's connexions, and deserving the public gratitude; and when these rewards are sufficient, factitious rewards are superfluous. To their ambassadors, and many others of their great officers of state, the Venetians never gave any pecuniary reward. In Eng1and, the public functions of sheriffs and justices of the peace are generally discharged by opulent and independent individuals, whose only reward consists in the respect and power attached to those offices.

3. There are many circumstances which may diminish the value of a reward, without being generally known beforehand, but against all of which it is proper to guard. Does the reward consist of money? Its value may be diminished by a burthen of the same nature, or by a burthen in the shape of honour. Honour and money may even be seen at strife with one another, as well as with themselves By these means, the value of a reward may sometimes be reduced to nothing, and even become negative.

In this country, where, properly speaking, there is no public prosecutor, many offences, which no individual has any peculiar interest in prosecuting, are liable to remain unpunished. In the way of remedy, the law offers from £ 10 to £ 20, to be levied upon the goods of the offender, to whoever will successfully undertake this function: sometimes it is added, that the expenses will be repaid in case of conviction: sometimes this is not promised. These expenses may amount to thirty, fifty, and even one hundred pounds; it is seldom they are so little as twenty pounds. After this, can we be surprised that the laws are imperfectly obeyed?

It may be added, that it is considered dishonourable to attend to this summons of the laws. An individual who in this manner endeavours to serve his country, is called an informer; and lest public opinion should not be sufficient to brand him with infamy, the servants of the law, and even the laws themselves, have on some occasions endeavoured to fix the stain. The number of private prosecutors would be much more numerous, if, instead of the insidious offer of a reward, an indemnification were substituted. The dishonourable offer being suppressed, the dishonour itself would cease. And who can say, when by such an arrangement the circumstance which offends it is removed, whether honour itself may not be pressed into the service of the laws?

There is another case in which, by the negligence of legal and official arrangements, a considerable and certain expense is attached to and made to precede a variable and uncertain reward. A new idea presents itself to some workman or artist. Knowing that the laws grant to every inventor a privilege to enable him exclusively to reap the profits of his invention, he enjoys by anticipation his success, and labours to perfect his invention. Having, in the prosecution of his discovery, consumed, perhaps, the greater part of his property and his life, his invention is complete. He goes, with a joyful heart, to the public office to ask for his patent. But what does he encounter? Clerks, lawyers, and officers of state, who reap beforehand the fruits of his industry. This privilege is not given, but is, in fact, sold for from £ 100 to £ 200---sums greater perhaps than he ever possessed in his life. He find himself caught in a snare, which the law, or rather extortion which has obtained the force of law, has spread for the industrious inventor. It is a tax levied upon ingenuity, and no man can set bounds to the value of the services it may have lost to the nation.

Rule III. Reward should be adjusted in such a manner to each particular service, that for every part of the benefit there may be a motive to induce a man to give birth to it.

In other words, the value of the reward ought to advance step by step with the value of the service. This rule is more accurately followed in respect of rewards than of punishments. If a man steal a quantity of corn, the punishment is the same, whether he steal one bushel or ten; but when a premium is given for the exportation of corn, the amount of the premium bears an exact proportion to the amount exported. To be consistent in matters of legislation, the scale ought to be as regular in the one case as in the other.

The utility of this rule is put beyond doubt by the difference that may be observed between the quantity of work performed by men employed by the day, and men employed by the piece. When a ditch is to be dug, and the work is divided between one set of men working by the day, and another set working by the piece, there is no difficulty in predicting which set will have finished first.

Hope, and perhaps emulation, are the motives which actuate the labourer by the piece: the motive which actuates the labourer by the day is fear---fear of being discharged in case of manifest and extraordinary idleness.

It must not, however, be forgotten, that there are many sorts of work in respect of which it is improper to adopt this mode of payment; which tends indeed to produce the greatest quantity of labour, but at the same time is calculated to give birth to negligence and precipitation. This method ought only to be employed in cases where the quality of the work can easily be discerned, and its imperfections (if any) detected.

The value of a reward may be increased or diminished, in respect of certainty as well as amount: when, therefore, any services require frequently renewed efforts, it is desirable that each effort should render the probability of its attainment more certain.

Arrangements should be made for connecting services with reward, in such manner that the attainment of the reward shall remain uncertain, without, however, ceasing to be more probable than the contrary event. The faculties of the individual employed will thus naturally be kept upon the full stretch. This is accomplished when a competition is established between two or more persons, and a reward is promised to that one who shall render service in the most eminent degree, whether it respect the quantity or the quality of the service proposed.

Rule IV. When two services come in competition, of which a man cannot be induced to perform both, the reward for the greater service ought to be sufficient to induce him to prefer it to the less.

In a certain country, matters are so arranged, that more is to be gained by building ships on the old plan, than by inventing better; by taking one ship, than by blockading a hundred; by plundering at sea, than by fighting; by distorting the established laws, than by executing them; by clamouring for or against ministers, than by showing in what manner the laws may be improved. It must however be admitted, that in respect of some of these abuses, it would be difficult to prescribe the proper remedy.

By what method can competition between two services be established? The individual from whom they are required must, either from personal qualifications or external circumstances, have it in his power to render either the one or the other. It is proper to distinguish the cases in which this position is transient, from those in which it is permanent. It is in the first that the fault committed, by suffering disproportion to subsist, is most irreparable.

During the American war, upwards of an hundred ships were at one time in one of the harbours of the revolted colonies. It vas of great importance that they should be kept in a state of blockade, since many of them were loaded with military stores. An English captain received orders to blockade them. Sufficiently skilled in arithmetic, and in proverbs, to know that two or three birds in his cage were worth a hundred in the bush, he acted as the greater number of men would have acted in his place. He stood off to a sufficient distance to give the enemy hopes of escaping: as soon as they had quitted the harbour, he returned, captured half-a-dozen, and the rest proceeded to their destination. I do not answer for the truth of this anecdote; but true or not true, it is equally good as an apologue. It exhibits one of the fruits of that inconsiderate prodigality, which grants, without discrimination, the produce of their captures to the captors.

Another example. A man who has influence obtains the command of a frigate, with orders to go upon a cruise. The command of a first-rate is accepted by those only who cannot obtain a frigate. It is thus that interest is put in competition with duty---cupidity with glory. There are doubtless not wanting noble minds by whom the seductions of sinister interest are resisted: but wherefore should they be so much exposed to what it is so difficult to resist?

It is true, that their ears may not be altogether insensible to the call of honour. The law has bestowed pecuniary rewards upon the captors of armed vessels---(another example, where one instance of profusion has created the necessity of a second)---but these rewards are still unequal: the chase of doves is more advantageous than the pursuit of eagles.

The remedy would be to tax, and tax heavily, the profits of lucrative cruises, to form a fund of reward in favour of dangerous, or merely useful expeditions. By this arrangement, the country would be doubly benefited, the service would be rendered more attractive, and conducted with more economy. It may be true, that if this tax were deducted from the share of the seamen, their ardour might be cooled: neither in value or in number are their prizes in this lottery susceptible of diminution. But though this be true with respect to the lower ranks of the profession, ought we to judge in the same manner of the superior officers, whose minds are elevated as their rank, and on whose conduct the performance of the duty has the most immediate dependence?

In the judicial department, the service which belongs to the profession of an advocate, and the service which belongs to the office of a judge, are in a state of rivalry: they constitute the elements of two permanent conditions, of which the first among most nations is the preliminary route to the second. In England, the judges are uniformly selected from among the class of advocates. Now the interest of the country requires that the choice should fall upon the men of highest attainments in their profession, since upon the reputation of the judges depends the opinion which every man forms of his security. It is not of the same importance to the public that advocates should be supereminently skilful: their occupation is not to seek out what is agreeable to justice, but what agrees with the interest of the party to which chance has engaged them. On the contrary, the more decidedly any advocate is exalted in point of talents above his colleagues, the more desirable is it that he should no longer continue an advocate. In proportion to his pre-eminence, is the probability that he will be opposed to the distribution of justice. The worse the cause of the suitor, the more pressing is his need of an able advocate to remedy his weakness. In England, the emoluments of the Lord Chancellor are reckoned at £ 20,000
--- Vice-Chancellor, 5,000
--- Master of the Rolls, 4,000
--- Chief-Justice of the King's Bench, 6,500
--- Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas, 5,000
--- Chief-Baron of the Exchequer, 5,000
--- Nine Puisne Judges, 4,000

Now, amongst the class of advocates there are always to be found about half-a-dozen whose annual emoluments average from eight to twelve thousand pounds. Of this number there is not one who would not disdain the office of puisne judge, since his profits are actually two or three times as great as theirs. To these advocates of the first class may be added as many more, who would equally disdain these subordinate situations, in the hope every day of succeeding to the advocates who shall succeed to the principal situations. There are two methods of obviating this inconvenience: the one by increasing the emoluments of the judges. (This course has been adopted upon many occasions, and they have been raised to their present amount, without success.) The other consists in lowering the profits of the advocates: a desirable object in more respects than one, but which can result only from rendering the whole system of the laws more simple and intelligible.

In the department of education, there is a nearly similar rivalry between the profession of the clergy and the office of professor, between the profession of advocate and the office of judge, in the department of the laws. In proportion as he is what he ought to be in order to be useful, a clergyman is a professor of morality, having for his pupils a larger or smaller number of persons of every class, during the whole course of their lives. On the other hand, a professor (as he is called) has for his pupils a number of select individuals, whose character is calculated to exercise the greatest influence upon the general mass of the people, and among their number the clergy are generally to be found. The period during which these individuals attend the lectures of the professor is the most critical period of life---the only period during which they are under obligation to pay attention to what they hear, or to receive the instruction presented to them. Such being the relation between the services of the two classes, let us see what is the proportion between the amount of reward respectively allotted to each.

In England, the emoluments of the clergy vary from £ 20 to £ 10,000 a-year, while those of the professors in the chief seats of education---the universities---are between the twentieth and the hundredth part of the latter sum. In Scotland, the emoluments of the professors differ but little from what they are in England, but the richest ecclesiastical benefice is scarcely equal to the least productive professorship. It is thus, says Adam Smith, that ``in England the church is continually draining the universities of all their best and ablest members; and an old college tutor, who is known and distinguished as an eminent man of letters, is rarely to be found''; whilst in Scotland the case is exactly the reverse. It is by the influence of this circumstance that he explains how academical education is so excellent in the Scottish universities, and, according to him, so defective in those of England.

Between two professions which do not enter into competition with each other (for example, those of opera-dancers and clergymen,) a disproportion between their emoluments is not attended with such palpable inconveniences; but when by any circumstance two professions are brought into comparison with each other, the least advantageous loses its value by the comparison, and the disproportion presents to the eye of the observer the idea of injustice.

[RR, Book I, Chapter IX] [RR, Book I, Chapter XI]